Technical Schmecnical

There are a lot of people today who live on the bleeding edge of technology. They eagerly responded to their Google+ invitations, have the latest iPhone & Kindle and can text as fast as a twelve year old girl. Then, there are my parents.

They made the conscious decision years ago not to go for the latest fad. Take the microwave oven for example. They were quite concerned that it could adversely disrupt the function of a pacemaker (not that they have one). When I told my mom that she could bake a potato in 8 minutes, she said, “I’m in no rush”. They weren’t believers in technology for technology’s sake (or for that matter, anyone else’s sake) and saw no need to jump on the push button phone bandwagon or even the electronic typewriter craze of 1968. They are even quite content on driving to the bank, standing on line and having to know what the hours of operation are (generally banker’s hours); only to make a withdrawal of $20. Although we were raised Jewish, maybe they’re some Amish blood in our family tree.

Dad is completely satisfied with the Royal typewriter that he’s used since the mid 1940’s. Although the letters are a bit misaligned along with the spacing, and occasionally a letter is red vs. black, it has been his trusted tool of the trade throughout his career as a CPA. He did purchase an adding machine in the ‘70s, but wasn’t satisfied and preferred totaling columns in his head and then transcribing the totals onto green ledger accounting pads. It never dawned on me that this was strange; being that he actually was an accountant. Recently he ran out of his 30 year supply of carbon paper and combo red/black typewriter ribbons and I had to purchase replenishments for him on Ebay as they are now considered collectibles.

I wonder what the IRS thinks of the tax returns he submits. This year he said to me, “You’re in the data processing field. Can you go to the world wide web and print me my tax forms” since they were no longer available at his local Post Office (which might be the next thing to be obsolete) and he couldn’t use the phone IVR system since he doesn’t have a push button phone. He specifically requested 8 different forms, their NJ State equivalents and 4 copies of each in case he makes a mistake. I started downloading the forms and printing them, but it would have used up a few pricy ink cartridges, a ream of paper and about an hour to collate and then deliver them to him. Luckily the IRS.gov had a mail delivery option. Yes, tax software would be a good suggestion for Dad if he had a computer. There will be no using Turbo Tax for him; He puts each paper form into the typewriter along with a piece of carbon paper and a duplicate form and enters all the required information sometimes pausing to use some White Out (another item available on Ebay). The process is arduous with today’s complicated tax laws and multiple schedules, worksheets and forms. Then he folds a large manila envelope so it will fit into the typewriter and addresses his tax return. When it’s complete it looks pretty much like a ransom note from a deranged kidnapper.

My parents have reluctantly embraced some technology out of necessity. They have adapters in many of their electrical outlets to accommodate their (relatively) new 3 prong appliances and had to reluctantly subscribe to cable TV since their rabbit-ear antennas were a safety hazard. Maybe they have the right idea – they saved a lot of money ignoring the rise and fall of the fax. They have never sent nor received one and are none the worse. Since I can’t IM them when one of our kids return home safely from a trip, they insist I give them the “signal”. That’s where I call them and hang up quickly (less than 6 rings at their age) to avoid the long distance charges (they’re not aware that nobody pays long distance charges these days, but I’m pretty sure they still do).

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Incorporating Social Media into the Synagogue experience

Here’s a letter I submitted to our Temple’s newsletter:

I recently read an article in Reform Judaism Magazine celebrating our ever-evolving faith.  Reform Judaism recognizes that our sacred heritage has evolved and adapted over the centuries and continues to do so.  The full and equal participation of women in our services is a powerful example of this.  Today, the tremendous rise of Social media has empowered people to seek freedom as demonstrated this past spring across the Arab world.  How can we, as Reform Jews, in Somerset County, NJ incorporate the power and value of social media to elevate our own Temple Beth-El experience?

 For one, we will obviously have to relax our “no cell-phone” policy and instead encourage the use of smart phones albeit in silent mode during our services.  Let’s allow our congregants to check-in on location based services like FourSquare when attending a TBE service.  There would be rewards (social currency) to promote this activity.  For example, the tenth person to check-in would receive a Minyan (the required amount of people to hold a service) badge, checking in at least once a week for an extended period would allow one to earn a Fromer-Yid (very religious) badge. If your entire family is in attendance, each would receive the gantza mishpucha (entire family) badge. 

 Let’s also utilize Twitter to inform congregants as to what goodies are being served at this week’s Oneg (after service snacks).  Let’s concede that some people (not me or you of course) base their attendance on whether or not chocolate rugalach or halvah will be adorning the tables in the social hall after the service.  Once one person reads a tweet that bagels and lox will be served at the Kiddish, the word will quickly spread (might I say schmear) to the entire local Jewish community raising service attendance and leading to an increase in Temple membership.

 Personal empowerment is a big driver of Social media.  Let’s allow our congregation to choose the closing hymn just like we vote for winners on American Idol.  Text BethEl1 for Adon Olam, BethEl2 for Hatikvah, or BethEl3 for Ein Keloheinu.   Of course we can’t open up the entire service to the wisdom of crowds.  Imagine if we were to allow people to vote for which Shofar sound would be bellowed from the bema?  There could possibly be 8 Tekiah Gedolahs and not a single Teruah.  Even the most talented Shofar blower wouldn’t be able to catch his/her breath. (The tekiah Gedolah is a set of notes played on a ram’s horn that can last upwards of 2 minutes) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJMv1XMIf_Q

Let’s fully embrace the power of Twitter.  Every time we tweet during a service or Temple function, we would include the hash-tag,  #TBE.  This would allow us to post Twitter results limited to those of our congregation on monitors installed in the aisles.  This activity would limit the amount of talking during the service and since all tweets would be posted and dissuade frivolous comments like “Look what she’s wearing to Temple – it’s a shanda! (embarrassment)”, or “Didn’t the Rabbi give the same sermon last year?”  However, it would encourage people to post relevant commentary and questions about this week’s Torah portion or a gentle request to lower the air conditioner.  For example this tweet could be responded to by others in order to avoid an embarrassing situation:

 “I have a really bad stiff neck – can I say my own name for the Misheberach (prayer of healing)?”

 Maybe we’re not ready to adopt all these ideas, but why not at least LIKE our TBE Facebook page and extend your TBE experience online?

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The perfect gift

I received many great gifts when I turned 35.  They included gift certificates to local restaurants, my own copy of Forrest Gump on VHS, a few bottles of booze and a very special gift from my friend Dave that I cherish to this very day.  It was an electronic shoe buffer with spinning fluffy pads that keep your shoes looking great.  One side was black and one was red although I’m really not sure why.  I generally don’t wear shoes that need to be buffed but it was proudly displayed in our bedroom until the kids began to play with it and it was then relegated to the walk in closet.

 

At my 40th birthday party, Dave gave me an even better present; a megaphone!  Early the next morning, (while still in bed) I used it to ask my wife what she wanted for breakfast.  She didn’t seem to appreciate waking up to the soothing sound of the megaphone, but it has come in handy. I used it to disperse some crowds at my kid’s parties and to get a word in edgewise at Thanksgiving dinner with our extended family.  Dave prided himself on giving gifts that you never thought of getting, but shortly after owning them, realized that you couldn’t live without them.  I responded to the megaphone by giving him a referee shirt when he hit the big 4-0.  He liked it, but his thank you note referenced it as prisoner’s uniform (yet another useful gift). 

Dave just turned 50 and I wasn’t sure what to get him.  I thought about getting one of those metal shoe measurement devices along with one of those low angled stools found in quality shoe stores.  It would make a nice gift set, but most people’s feet seem to stop growing by 50 and although it would be a stylish addition to their parlor, it wasn’t very practical. 

 That’s when it dawned on me.  I’ll get Dave something stylish, classy yet quite useful – monogrammed handkerchiefs!

It was the perfect accoutrement to adorn a fancy suit’s breast pocket or be more modestly placed in the front pocket of some casual slacks.  And talk about functional; you can blow your nose in it all day and after a spin in the washer along with your wife’s delicate knits, it can show up back in your dresser drawer all folded up nicely ready to re-use.  Think about all the tissues people use today! Handkerchiefs are the ultimate green gift (no pun intended) as they are great for the environment and save trees.  As a Doctor, Dave will be able to pull it out of his pocket and offer it to a sobbing patient who just learned that her Lupus tests came back inconclusive.  I made sure it was adorned with his initials, so as not to confuse it with his son’s handkerchiefs.  Dave will wonder how he ever lived without them.  He will learn to lovingly refer to them as hankies.

Its uses are endless.  If he’s playing Blackjack in Atlantic City and is dealt a poor hand, he can surrender by waving it at the dealer.  Imagine if he gets an upper respiratory infection.  Think of how disgusting it would be for him to blow his nose and cough into tissues and then just casually toss them in various trash receptacles around town.  Now, he’d be able to use his trusty hankie, and then just plop it in the hamper in the comfort of his own home.  I hope he enjoys his gift.

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Happy Hanukkah – from Put It In Your Act!

   During one holiday season, I found myself at a local hardware superstore with my son.  Eric was three at the time and he was sitting in the shopping cart as I walked up and down the aisles looking for a replacement toilet seat.  Eric was starting to use the “potty” and we wanted to get a child’s seat, so he wouldn’t fall in.  As soon as he laid his eyes on the Garfield toilet seat, he was mesmerized.    He asked if we could get it.  It was about ten dollars more expensive than a regular child’s seat.  I tried to talk him out of it, but to no avail.  I then said that since we hadn’t bought him all of his eight Hanukkah gifts yet, if he really wanted the special Garfield seat, it would be his eighth gift.  He eagerly agreed. 

   As we were proceeding to the checkout area, a nice little old lady approached us.  She smiled at Eric and asked him if he was a good boy and what he wanted Santa to bring him for Christmas.  As I began to wonder how to respond, he simply stated, “We celebrate Hanukkah.” 

   The lady quickly smiled at Eric and said, “Well I’m sure you are a good boy and your parents will get you some great gifts for Hanukkah.” 

   He then proudly showed the lady the toilet seat and said, “This is my favorite Hanukkah present from my parents!”  The lady walked away.  She probably then recognized me as the guy who tried to pocket the dollar bill at midnight mass years ago.

“An excerpt from Put It In Your Act! – Chapter 13 – The Dreaded Holiday Dilemma”

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Google might have automated the process of finding look-a-likes

It seems like Google is helping the effort to find look-a-like celebrities.  Upon searching for Gene Shalit (don’t ask why?) I clicked on images and low a behold the following celebs were displayed.  A few dangerous villans in the mix.  Gene might want to loose the stash

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Funniest moments of my career

I just celebrated 25 years working for Nabisco & Kraft Foods.  I’ve been blessed to have a rewarding career at a great company and to work with so many terrific people along the way.  I’ve developed many strong friendships over the years and I’m very thankful for having spent the last quarter century (half of my life) at the same company.  As I reflect upon the last 25 years, I think of the varied interesting and challenging assignments I’ve had and the opportunities that lay ahead.  I also remember so many funny situations.  Here’s a few of my favorites.  Let me know if you think they warrant another chapter in my book, “Put It In Your Act!”

It was my first year with Nabisco.  I was clearly on the fast track as I was quickly promoted from a Micro Computer Analyst to a Senior Micro Computer Analyst.  With the promotion came new increased responsibilities.  I developed a program to ensure that all the equipment used in making Baby Ruth & Butterfingers was cleaned according to protocol.  I had flown into Chicago’s O’Hare airport, rented a car and was on my way to the hotel excited to visit the plant at Franklin Park the next morning, where I would train the midnight shift right before they left at 5:00 AM.   I needed to get gasoline and pulled into the first stations I saw.  I waited, and waited, and waited but nobody came to my car.  There clearly was a person in the small glass storefront so I got out of my car and walked up to the window.  A young woman asked if she could help me and I said, “Yes – I need some gasoline.”  She said, “So, go pump it.”  I was a bit confused.  In New Jersey, it’s against the law to pump your our own gasoline.  I think they’re afraid folks would fill it up and then take off.  In any event, I didn’t know how to pump my own gas.  I was 25 years old, and although I was good at software, I had little experience with hardware.  I read the instructions, but had no clue what I was supposed to do.  I went back to the window and asked the young women if she would help me.  She asked if I was drunk.  I told her I was from NJ and never pumped gas before.  She laughed and quickly filled up my car.  I thanked her, paid her and embarrassingly drove away looking for the next jug-handle so I could make a U-turn. 

                I received a wake-up call at 4:00 AM and felt fortunate that with the 1 hour time change it really only felt like 5:00 AM.  I put on my 3 piece suit (the garb of corporate America in the mid 80’s) and drove to the plant.  I could smell the roasted peanuts as I left my car and entered the security office.  I flashed my ID, signed in and checked my watch, college ring and put on a hair net as instructed by the guard.  I was met by the plant manager who promptly gave me a tour of the facility.  I felt like I was walking the floor of a maximum security prison.  Everyone there was enormous, muscular and quite tough looking.  A few pointed to me and said mockingly “Look at the suit”.  In any event, I proceeded to demo my cleaning program to the Quality folks at the plant.  My hour training session went well and my task was done.  I asked where the bathroom was, and made my way there.  The bathroom here was quite different than the main office in East Hanover, NJ.  It was more like a men’s locker-room.  I walked past the lockers and mirrors to find this big white porcelain circular vessel that had a circular foot bar near the ground.  When you stepped on it, water dripped down the top.  I’ve seen a lot of urinals, but this one seemed kind of weird.  I un-zipped and was about to relieve myself, when a big guy off the plant floor shuffled in, stepped on the metal bar and began to wash his hands.  If he came in just a second later, I would have been a dead man.

A few years later, I attended a corporate event in which our president was addressing a crowd of about 500 employees at a nearby hotel auditorium.  It was the usual corporate pep rally in which the obligatory slide show consisting of  candid shots of my fellow colleagues was displayed with the song “Simply the Best” blaring out of the PA system.  I arrived late, and spotted a woman I knew in the center of the room with an empty seat next to her.  I made my way through the room and sat down next to Judy.    I whispered hello to her and noticed that she was hunched over and shaking slightly.  I thought she might be crying, so I asked her if everything was alright.  She stuttered that things were fine, but she couldn’t stop laughing.  Within 30 seconds, I too had contracted a nasty case of the giggles.  People near us were looking at us as we emitted the occasional loud snicker.  It felt like my head was going to explode.  It was a relief when the talk was over and we could regain our compsure.

                We actually had it pretty easy back in the day.  We worked hard but we also had fun.  During lunchtime in the fall, a group of programmers would walk across the street to a field and fly stunt kites.  The experts in our group were able to perform tricks, have the kites make noise and dive down almost to the ground and then instantly go straight up again to the heavens.  When the wind was really strong it took all of one’s strength to control these kites.  On a very windy day after a few days of steady rain, I got the chance to hold the reigns of a kite.  A gust of wind suddenly picked up, got behind the kite and began to pull me.  I fell down in the mud and it actually dragged me across the muddy field.  A few of the guys were able to control my kite, but I along with my suit was totally covered in mud.  Upon returning to the office, my boss poked his head into my cube and asked how I was making out with some coding.  I had to stick my head around the corner of my cube and answer him while hiding my mud-covered suit from his view.  This wasn’t the first time I had to hide from him.  Once Pat Heidrich told me that I should tie my necktie in a full Windsor knot.  I was far from an expert at tying ties and occasionally resorted to clip-ons.   I untied my tie and gave it to Pat, who promptly slipped it on and tied a beautiful knot and was just about to loosen it and slip it over his head to give to me, when our boss showed up.  This time I had to hide my tieless shirt and Pat quickly flipped one of his two neckties over his shoulder.  We were glad when business casual was invented.

                I don’t want to brag, but I got to work on the first client server technology database implementation at Nabisco in the early ‘90s.  One of the Marketing finance guys wasn’t happy with his username that was needed to gain access to the SQLbase application.  The algorithm used to create an ID was last name, followed by first initial.  Tim Bilrun was not at all happy with his BILRUNT ID and requested that Ralph have it changed to something less diminutive. Ralph had to ask the database administrator, Al to have it changed.  Al said, “No way!  If I break the rules for Tim, I’ll have to break them for everyone else and I ain’t going to do that!”  Ralph was clearly upset.  How was he going to break the news to Mr. Bilrun?  That’s when Pat Heidrich, Judy Hoffer and I sprang into action.  We created an email to Al requesting a few SQLbase ID’s for the Cookies & Crackers Marketing Team.  Nancy Tampo, Teddy Toyle, Todd Farr, and Stuart Ball all needed IDs and Passwords to access the system.  About an hour later, Al phoned me, said he created the Marketing IDs and that I should come to his office and get them.  I showed up and Al was quite serious.  He said, “Ok Lar; Nancy’s ID is T-A-M-P-O-N  – wow tampon” and he chuckled.  I played along acting surprised.  Then he said “The next one is Teddy.  His ID is T-O-Y-L-E-T – Ha – Toilet!!” and he laughed again.  Once he delivered the next ID, “FART”, it dawned on him that this was not a coincidence. His face turned red, he became agitated and said, “Get the F*** out of my office and don’t waste my time”.  He didn’t talk to me for about a year, but he did let Ralph know that Tim’s ID was changed as requested.

                In the mid-90’s my team was conducting training in a Trade Spending application with the sales force in Chicago.  My wife had a childhood friend that lived in Buffalo Grove, a northern suburb of Chicago and we decided to drive there along with our 18 month old son Eric. Robin could spend time with Hayley and her young kids Jordana and Scott while I was at my week long training session.  Our plan was to leave really early on Saturday morning and then be able to spend time seeing Chicago with our friends before my work started on Monday. As fate would have it, just as we left our condo for the big trip, the snow began to fall.  It wasn’t just flurries, but a blinding blizzard.  We were excited about the trip, so we ignored the 10 or so jackknifed tractor trailers we saw along the way.  We arrived to our hotel late that evening a bit white-knuckled and ready for bed, but excited to see our friends in the morning. We sampled deep dish pizza at Giordano’s with pepperoni accompanied by a few brewskis for lunch.  Later that evening, I tried some Polish sausage, Garrett’s Carmel Corn and a few other Chicago favorites.  Everyone commented on how much food I was able to pack into my body.  We headed back to the hotel and I was eager to meet my colleagues the next day for our training session.  I awoke that night with some sever bed spins at about 3:00 AM and headed straight for the bathroom.  That seems to be the time that most people get the urge to vomit.  I had made a number of similar trips to the bathroom and by 8:00 AM, I had a splitting headache, stomach ache and fever of 102 (measured with the ear thermometer we brought just in case Eric was teething).  I left a message for my boss that I must have some type of stomach bug.  Robin and Eric felt fine and toured the city with Hayley the next few days as I languished with a fever, chills and other nasty symptoms.  I began to feel better by Thursday evening and for the first time in days, left my hotel room to attend the last dinner of our weeklong meeting.  I sheepishly greeted all the attendees and sat down for dinner.  When I began to catch a whiff of the Salmon with Tarragon cream sauce, I had to make a dash for the room and got into bed and slept for the night.  I felt better on Friday and we made the long drive home.  The next week, my boss didn’t seem very pleased when I asked her to sign my $1,500 expense report.

We had more adventures as the family accompanied me on another trip to Chicago.  This time, I was working at the FMI annual Food Show showing our award winning recipe website.  I manned the Kraft Foods booth for a few days and then we were going to take a few vacation days to tour Chicago and then visit Cleveland and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  I met my family at the end of the day back in our Chicago Hotel in time for Happy Hour.  The hostess said that as a Hilton Honors Club member, I could get top-shelf drinks for free, so I ordered a Tanqueray Martini, Robin got a glass of white zinfandel and our boys Eric & Alex got Shirley Temples.  As we began to relax, Alex had to go to the bathroom so Robin took him back up to the room.  My drink was a bit strong and after a few sips, I made my way to the grand piano within the bar area and played the intro to “Come Sail Away”.  A guy in the back screamed “Styx!!!” and then motioned for Eric and me to join their table.  He asked what we were drinking and offered to buy us a round since he was a big Styx fan and I found myself drinking my second Martini.  They were also attending the Food Show and were joint owners in a company that makes Hot Sauce.  Their big seller was called “Too Fargin’ Hot”.  One of the guys was a drummer and he was giving my son Eric advice on how to drum. Eric kept asking me if he could go to the gift shop and I really don’t remember saying yes.  Anyhow, the guys were going on about how Kraft should market their sauce when Robin called me and said that when Alex flushed the toilet the room flooded and we were moving rooms.  She asked why I was so calm about the room mishap and I said it might have to do with the 2nd Martini.  She asked to talk to Eric and I noticed he wasn’t with us.  The guys asked if I want another drink, but I thanked them and excused myself and shortly thereafter found Eric in the gift shop.  We returned up to our new room and left the next morning for Cleveland.

                Cleveland was fun and we stayed in an Embassy Suites so the kids could get their own room and everyone could get free breakfast.   Each room had a TV and as I was flipping through the channels I stumbled upon an adult station that wasn’t scrambled.  As I sat on the bed watching intently, Alex walked into our room and said “What station are you guys watching”.  I quickly said, “Nipple-odian” and promptly turned off the TV.  Our trip was winding down and although we had lots of fun, I was getting a bit stir crazy travelling with our two young boys.  Our last breakfast at the hotel was the last straw.  My son Eric likes bacon.  He really likes bacon.  When we entered the dining room, he made a beeline for the chafing dish that held the bacon.  He grabbed a tray, no plate, no napkin, no silverware, just a tray.  In fact I’m not sure it was even a clean tray.  The rest of us calmly visited the breakfast buffet stations and sat at a table.  Shortly thereafter, Eric reached the table with about 100 strips of bacon piled high on the tray.  I lost it!  I began to yell at him for his atrocious manners, poor nutritional diet, etc.  Robin tried to diffuse the situation by taking Eric’s tray of bacon and placing it on any empty table in the far corner of the dining room.  She then got a more sensible assortment of food that would be more proper for a ten year old and placed it in front of Eric.  Eric said apologetically, “I was just trying to get enough bacon for all of us to share.”  At that same moment, one of the hotel staff approached the tray of bacon on the isolated table.  She literally looked around and scratched her head.  I didn’t speak to Eric again until we entered Pennsylvania and I continued to interchangeably call him bacon-boy or Oscar Mayer for the next few weeks.

One of my most enjoyable assignments involved managing the e-commerce gift website for Nabisco in the late 90’s.  We had a gift and collectible catalog featuring Nabisco themed items.  One weekend, I was remotely connected to monitor our online ordering activity.  It was very exciting in those days to see orders coming in from around the country.  I noticed that a woman in nearby Manville, NJ had just ordered a Mr. Peanut ceramic mug.  I’m a big Planters Peanut collector and have hundreds of items all featuring Mr. Peanut on them.  I considered putting on my Mr. Peanut costume, along with cane and gloves and driving to her home to deliver the Mr. Peanut Mug, but thought it might freak her out.  That would have been great customer service.

                My last recollection might not seem that big of a deal, but it had a great impact on me.  I was having lunch outside on our beautiful patio on the East Hanover Eagle building campus with my colleagues.  Here’s when it happened:  Lee Reynolds was eating her salad when a yellow-jacket landed right on a piece of lettuce in her bowl.  A few people would freak out, run, get a new meal and sit inside the cafeteria, but not Lee.  Like an all pro wide-receiver who doesn’t break stride while catching a ball and fighting off the defense, Lee took a bite of salad, told a story about her husband cutting a tree branch while standing on their mini-van, took a napkin and squashed the bee and flung it, and without missing a beat, took another bite of salad and continued her story.  That is pure talent!

                I look forward to more interesting tales as I begin my 26th year with the company. Cheers.

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PupikPalooza 2010 announcement

On the heels of Pete Townshend’s wardrobe malfunction while performing his signature guitar windmills at Super Bowl XLIV in Miami this past January a world wide music festival has been born.  Pete briefly flashing his belly button sparked the  creation of PupikPalooza 2010 which will be held this year at the world renowned Hotel Pupik in Scheifling Austria.   The fusion of music and belly buttons got its name from the Yiddish word for belly button, Pupik.  The lineup of celebrities and musical acts currently include:

Sade, Barbara Eden (AKA Jeanie), Britney Spears, and Shakira and a special encore performance by none other than Pete Townshend himself.

The concert  is being sponsored by the US Naval Academy.  Other advertisers include the Association of Laparoscopic Surgeons, the Florida Navel Orange Growers Board and Lindt chocolate.

More details to be announced shortly.

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